In many schools, it is the SENCO who has the main responsibility for managing Teaching Assistants (TAs). SENCO Week provides tips on selecting your TAs effectively

Teaching assistants (TAs) contribute an enormous amount to SEN provision in schools today and their training and management is a key part of the SENCO role. After Christmas, the next two issues of SENCO Week will provide some reminders of how to ensure that this valuable resource is used to best effect.

Support for SENCOs

A recent report from Ofsted, Reforming and Developing the School Workforce describes a very mixed bag of effectiveness among schools when it comes to deploying ‘the wider workforce’. (http://ofstednews.ofsted.gov.uk/article/235).

Inspectors noted the following in the schools sampled:

  • Pupils benefited from increased support from members of the wider workforce. Deploying adults with different skills allowed the schools to improve care and guidance for vulnerable pupils and those at risk of exclusion.
  • The full potential of the wider workforce to raise achievement and standards was not realised when schools did not match skills and expertise sufficiently closely to school needs, and when insufficient attention was given to the performance management and career development of the workforce.
  • Performance management of members of the wider workforce was not consistent. When they reported to more than one person, it was not always clear who would conduct their annual performance review or what evidence would be used for assessment.

Recommendations for schools are to:

  • Monitor and evaluate the effects of workforce reform to assess its impact on pupils’ learning
  • Develop a professional workforce culture by agreeing a set of working practices for the deployment of the wider workforce and sharing ideas and practice about teaching and learning among all staff
  • Provide relevant induction, training, performance management, and professional and career development for the wider workforce, linking these to school self-evaluation and improvement planning.

In many schools, it is the SENCO who has the main responsibility for managing TAs, especially in secondary schools where they may form the ‘learning support team’, so it’s important that you devote adequate time to their selection, deployment and training; work with colleagues to ensure that they facilitate the effective working of TAs; and monitor the effectiveness of individuals as well as the team as a whole.

Selecting TAs

There will be constraints in this, not least the amount of pay on offer, but developing an effective interview and selection process can go a long way to getting the right man or woman for the job. If you have built up a group of reliable volunteer helpers in school, this can sometimes provide a ‘recruitment pool’ from which individuals can apply for paid positions. In preparation for advertising, sifting applications and interviewing for TA posts:

  • Consider how best to deploy a new TA − linked to the school/SEN development plan. Define the position and write a job description; be sure you know exactly what the person will be doing and therefore the skills you are looking for. The role of TA has developed at a fast rate over recent years. As well as offering direct support to pupils,

TAs may now also be involved in preparing resources (including technology), conducting individual assessments, observing and recording achievements in lessons, writing IEPs and helping SENCOs with administrative tasks. A TA intended to be responsible for working with staff and children using technology, for example will need to have particular experience, interest and skills. (At the same time, be alert to particular skills and talents that an individual may bring with them − eg musical talent; first language other than English; experience with children who have behavioural problems. Be ready to capitalise on these.)

  • Draw up a list of questions to ask in the interview − it can help to send these by post to interviewees so that they can prepare their answers. (eg Jason is in Y6, has autistic tendencies and is working at Level 1. The class teacher prefers him to work with a TA outside the classroom, but his parents and the SENCO want him to be included in the class as much as possible. What are the issues to consider? How might you approach this situation and achieve an outcome that satisfies both colleagues and parents, as well as delivering maximum benefit to Jason?)
  • Consider setting a short task to be completed pre-interview; this could be designing an IEP or considering a particular scenario and how a child with specific difficulties might be best supported − and form the basis of a discussion in the interview.
  • Assess the candidate’s attitude to working collaboratively (with teachers and others); to attending training sessions; to confidentiality. An ability and willingness to learn, compassion for children who have difficulties and a professional approach go a long way.

In the New Year, SENCO Week we will look at different ways of deploying TAs to support individuals and groups of children and a HELPSHEET will provide some ‘Dos and Don’ts’ for in-class support.

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SEN News

2008 is the second National Year of Reading. Led by the National Literacy Trust (NLT), it offers an opportunity to take reading and literacy to the next level as a national priority. Alan Johnson made the announcement in the context of the launch of Every Parent Matters, so there is the expectation that the year will have a significant focus on family and home reading. The NLT believes that second Year of Reading also offers opportunities to demonstrate how reading addresses a wide range of national priorities, including:

  • A re-discovery of what reading means in an increasingly diverse society: we need to be a nation of readers and storytellers, understanding different identities and the richness of traditions.
  • The urgent need to develop empathy in society to breed respect and build communities. Reading must be an important tool in widening perspectives and challenging intolerance.
  • Placing literacy and language at the heart of the inclusion agenda. Strategies addressing exclusion need to embed language and literacy as vital elements in supporting early cognitive development, employability and the development of personal and social skills.

The National Year of Reading (NYR) consortium has finalised the monthly themes for the NYR, running from April to December 2008 (www.yearofreading.org.uk/nyrthemes.html).

World Book Day is on 6 March 2008: www.worldbookday.com

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This e-bulletin issue was first published in December 2007

About the author: Linda Evans is the author of SENCO Week. She was a teacher/SENCO/adviser/inspector, before joining the publishing world. She now works as a freelance writer, editor and part-time college tutor.

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